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Escape to the Caribbean on a cruise

Escape to the Caribbean on a cruise

Leaving our final port of call, we had just crossed the gangplank to our giant cruise ship when I began thinking it was already time to plan our next voyage.
My wife, Gina, and I had sailed an identical route 4 1/2 years earlier on our maiden cruise. The itinerary: Depart from a Florida port; spend a beach day at beautiful Labadee on the northern tip of Haiti; and take in the scenery, sights and shopping at stops in Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel in Mexico's Western Caribbean.
We were immediately hooked on cruising. Six months later, we sailed to ports in the eastern Caribbean. Our third cruise, in June 2005, we left Seattle and followed the scenic Inner Passage to Alaska.
This time, we chose to redo the western Caribbean route. We were in a throng of 13 family members and friends who sailed on Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas, the third-largest cruise ship in the world.
Cruises on large ships are perfect for groups because there's so much to do on board. People can join organized activities with other cruisers, or find solace in solitary moments. My oldest brother found napping on an open deck _ away from the bustle of the pool areas _ to be the perfect way to relax.
Other family members jumped right into the fray of things. Several of the men, myself excluded, volunteered for a "sexy legs contest" and enjoyed the attention from several hundred hooting, appreciative women. I took lots of photos.
With a dozen or so bars and several restaurants, few could have been dry or hungry on the ship. Most food is free on cruises. Alcoholic drinks are extra.
Our first stop on the June 2006 cruise was Labadee, a secluded peninsula with a beautiful beach and plenty of tropical shade trees. Passengers were thrilled to soak up the sun, snorkel, shop for colorful island art or rent personal watercraft for an exhilarating jaunt across the big bay.
Mariner landed next at Ocho Rios. A popular shore excursion here is a trip to Dunn's River Falls, a spectacular 600-foot, stair-step waterfall that cascades to the ocean. The hardy waded in, holding hands in long strings, and carefully climbed to the top through the refreshing mountain stream.
As with other Caribbean islands, there are many other attractions on Jamaica. But with limited time to explore and the necessity of getting back before the ship sails to its next destination, choose carefully. Excursions can be booked with the cruise line, over the Internet or at the dock. Warning: They can be pricey and add considerably to the cost of a cruise.
Our third stop was Georgetown, the most upscale port on our itinerary.
Damage from the 2005 hurricanes was noticeable on both Grand Cayman and in Cozumel, but much of the debris had been cleaned up and the two ports were bustling with cruise passengers.
Two days of our seven-day cruise were sea days, traveling initially to our first port and then returning to Port Canaveral, Florida. We love sea days because they are so relaxing. Get up, eat breakfast, take a long walk on an outside deck, snack, shop a while, have lunch, nap, snack again, dress for dinner, go to the evening theater performance, eat a late dessert, go to bed. Doesn't get much better than that.
The jewel of Mariner is its airy, four-story Royal Promenade. Situated in the heart of the ship, it's a strolling mall-at-sea that's complete with shops, bars, and a 24-hour restaurant.
Evening performances in the ship's theater include song and dance reviews, comedians, jugglers, magicians and a hilarious game show for married couples.
Did I mention the vessel also has an ice-skating rink, miniature golf, basketball court, rock-climbing wall, fitness center and spa? It has all of those things and more.
There are few amenities lacking in the newest cruise ships. Some things cost extra, others are part of the package.
Alice Norsworthy, senior vice president of marketing with Royal Caribbean International, says her firm will continue to add large ships to its fleet because they offer more things for passengers to enjoy.
"We provide an innovative cruise experience and continue to introduce new elements to cruising to make people realize that a cruising vacation can be very active and exhilarating as well as a relaxing vacation," she says.
"Our ships provide ice skating and rock climbing and surfing, or even boxing, if you'd like. Or they can provide a more rejuvenating, romantic experience with our alternative dining restaurants and our full-service spas; or they can have a family vacation where the kids and parents can enjoy time together as well as time separately."
The allure of cruising is soaring, Norsworthy says, and Royal Caribbean continues to look for new destination ports around the globe.
"The Caribbean is one of most popular cruise destinations, although we're seeing increasing interest in ports around the world," she says. "We're expanding our itineraries to support Australia and New Zealand, South America, Asia, and we're continuing to expand in Europe as well."
Norsworthy says the Internet has been a boon for the cruise industry.
"The Internet is a very popular way to research and look for cruises," she says. "A lot of our guests use the Internet for planning purposes and to gather information, but we still see travel agents playing a major role in booking that travel."
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If You Go ...
http://www.royalcaribbean.com/home/expl.do
http://www.orlandoairports.net/goaa/main.htm
WHAT TO WEAR: Light clothing is recommended for island excursions. A light jacket or sweater is a good idea for evenings on the deck of the ship. Don't forget sunscreen and swimwear. Smart casual dress (no shorts or T-shirts) is recommended for evening dinner in the dining rooms; there are two formal nights when people may dress up as much as they like, but casual clothing is acceptable.


Updated : 2021-08-01 10:21 GMT+08:00